Miss Babette was younger than she looked. I overheard some of my father’s friends whisper this to each other. When they came – the men – they stayed in the spare bedrooms. Sometimes, one or all of them would stay at the inn closer to town. In either case, they came every day to the house and drank together, underlined their many papers: thirds, fourths, and fifths of books. They were so impressed, always, by how expansive our house was, how the staircase was carved from dark wood and sturdy.
It’s because they live in little apartments, Miss Babette told me. They live in little cubes that stack up on top of each other.
So, this is like–
Like the moon landing to them, yes, Miss Babette laughed.
Yes, I nodded.
Miss Babette and I spent days like this – days without school, or any event – sitting together at the edge of the forest, watching the house from there, as if it were going to suddenly move. My father called it “a poor man’s farmhouse:” just ungroomed enough, dirt-white enough, he told me, to be “poor.” Miss Babette had moved into the room downstairs when I was six years old. When my father bought the house, back before I was born, he had intended to only stay for the summers, and spend the cold seasons in the city. After my mother died, he lost his appetite for social activity. This was what he told me. He told me if I had met my mother, person to person rather than baby to person, I would have cared more for the city, I would have grown up polite and urban. Miss Babette was meant to be a companion, as well as a mother in the material sense: brush my hair, sing to me, teach me how to fold my clothes, wash my face. I don’t remember Miss Babette arriving. I don’t remember picking her up from the airport, her climbing into the
passenger seat beside my father. I don’t remember her asking my name, offering me her hand. I only remember the size of her face, how it kept turning to me in the backseat. It was such a full face, rounded and ripe, as if it might burst at any moment.
I could never be a writer, Miss Babette said. She readjusted the skirt of her dress.
Why? I asked.
I can never finish my sentences, she said and laughed again. I wound a piece of grass around my finger until I saw it hot-red and bulging.
But you tell good stories, I said. The grass snapped. I massaged my knuckle.
No, she told me. I am always saying this, and then that. Oh! And suddenly I’m over here, talking like a ragdoll, you see?
When Miss Babette spoke to me, I listened for simile: moon landing, rag doll. I never understood what she meant. Miss Babette knew everything was like something else, an endless web of likeness.
Miss Babette told me she was born into the arms of her grandmother. Literally, she said. Her mother had squatted in the one room of their house, and Miss Babette had slipped out and into her grandmother’s arms. She told me she remembered it.
I shook my head. I don’t believe you, I said.
No, no, it’s true, Miss Babette told me, it’s true. I was born just like this. I saw the. I saw the light, yes. The light. I remember seeing my grandmother’s hands. They were. And I was. Ah, I am not making sense. I fit into my grandmother’s hands. I was the size of. Yes, you see? All of it is true. That was how natural I was. To my family. I was a natural at becoming a part of the family, yes, yes. Like I was on a mission. On a mission to join, yes. I’ve made. I stole. I’ve made